Akhilesh Yadav and his wife Dimple at the Ficci event in New Delhi on Tuesday. (PTI)
New Delhi, July 24: Uttar Pradesh chief minister Akhilesh Yadav today said foreign direct investment shouldn’t be allowed in retail “unless the interests of small and marginal farmers and traders were protected” although he clarified that he wasn’t against FDI by itself.
His remarks were so nuanced, compared with the seemingly outright rejection attributed to his father Mulayam Singh Yadav in a letter, that the Samajwadi Party found it necessary to issue a clarification that the family is united on the issue.
The party’s clarification, which said FDI would not be allowed in Uttar Pradesh even if the Centre goes ahead, reflected what the UPA government is pinning its hopes on: states that want foreign investment in retail should be allowed to choose that option, while those who are opposed to it can block local clearances.
“Farmers should not be put at a loss. We have to protect our domestic retail industry, our traders. There’s no law to ban retail trade but there should be a debate on FDI in retail,” Akhilesh told an event organised by commerce and industry chamber Ficci.
The young chief minister appeared to be leaving some room for manoeuvre open by underscoring that promises to protect farmers’ interests should be honoured.
“I remember when McDonald’s had opened its first outlet in Vasant Kunj (New Delhi), we spoke to the India operations head. He assured us that potatoes, lettuce and the other raw materials used in their products would be sourced and purchased locally. But it seems that has not happened,” Akhilesh said.
Asked what his reservations were on FDI, he said: “We are not against FDI in retail. FDI must come but our only reservation is that farmers’ interests must be safeguarded.”
The comments created an impression that Akhilesh might not be on the same page on the issue with his father Mulayam Singh Yadav who, along with the Left and the Janata Dal (Secular), recently wrote to the Prime Minister opposing FDI in the segment.
“In a situation when employment growth has slowed down, the entry of foreign supermarkets would further aggravate the employment situation. We urge the government not to open up retail trade to FDI any further. Political parties across the spectrum are opposed to this move,” the letter had said.
After TV channels played up the apparent contradiction, Samajwadi general secretary and Mulayam’s cousin Ram Gopal Yadav told PTI there was no difference in stand between father and son, and even if the Centre went ahead with FDI in retail, the Uttar Pradesh government would not enforce it. “Lakhs of families will be affected by this (FDI in retail) and even if the government introduces this, we will not let it come into force in UP,” he said.
Samajwadi sources said their manifesto for the Assembly elections had placed on record their objections and both Mulayam and Akhilesh had stressed the point while campaigning.
As a result, traders — traditionally BJP voters — had switched allegiance, lock, stock and barrel, to the Samajwadi. “We can’t let them down, not with the Lok Sabha polls staring at us,” a party source said.
The Centre can usher in FDI in retail by an executive order, without seeking parliamentary ratification. “But if Mulayam speaks against it (FDI), be sure that Mayawati will follow suit,” a source said, expressing doubts if the Centre would press ahead with the move now.
Akhilesh was cautious in his replies to questions on other controversial matters.
Asked why he had prioritised renaming districts christened by his predecessor Mayawati after Dalit and backward caste icons over more pressing matters like power and water supply, he smiled. “I wanted the old names to be restored because a majority of the people are familiar with those and not the new names.”